Today’s post is by guest author, fitness and nutrition expert, Cait Lynch. Cait has recently published a book (link below), I have just started reading it and already it seems the most sensible book I have read on nutrition and weight loss.
You can tell a lot about a person’s ability to handle adversity just by watching them walk into a room. In times of adversity, the way we move through space can affect our confidence. This makes sense, right? If we assume an Eeyore-esque posture, we project a lack of self-esteem. People treat us differently when we stand up tall. Good posture conveys a sense of self-confidence that is reassuring not only to those around us but, most importantly to ourselves.
As a nutrition and fitness coach and a lifelong equestrian, I’ve spent over 25 years watching people move through space. Learning and then practicing proper posture creates a positive, domino effect in the body. This makes us feel good and when we feel better, we can choose to do better—especially when times are tough.
I would like to teach you a simple, five-step process you can do almost anywhere, anytime that will help establish good posture habits, promote core strength and save your back. Once you learn this, it takes 30 seconds to set up and you will want to use it in all of your daily activities. This includes, everything from sitting at your desk, going for a walk, riding your horse, playing golf, and even getting in and out of bed! And, practicing good posture habits will help you manage whatever life throws at you.
Here are just some of the benefits of practicing good postural alignment:
- More oxygen for your brain. An aligned spine allows for a deeper, more efficient oxygen exchange in the lungs. This can mean more brainpower and lead to better decision-making during adverse conditions.
- A stronger connection to your core. A weak core can mean weaker self-esteem. Ever get a nervous stomach or bellyache when someone or something tries to diminish your self-esteem? Proper posture stems from a foundation of core strength. Learning to engage the core can help support the back and all the joints of the body. This makes you stand up taller and helps you to step into your power when you’re faced with both physical and mental challenges.
- More energy and endurance. An aligned spine that allows for better breathing and more sustainable core strength—all day long—means that you can channel your energy when and where you need it most. And, that you’ll have the endurance to tackle any dilemma that comes your way with a tenacious grace that serves you and those around you.
If you practice this 30-second core strengthener, alignment exercise three times a day, for one week, it will transfer to all aspects of your life in a positive way. When you understand how this exercise can benefit your whole being—both physically and mentally—you’ll want to practice it all day long and with everything you do.
How great is that?
What I’m going to teach you only takes 30 seconds to set up and again, you can practice this anywhere at anytime. I’m going to explain the steps from top to bottom. But, then you’ll practice them from bottom to top. (Don’t worry; this will make more sense in a moment.)
First, consider letting go of the antiquated ‘shoulders back’ and ‘chest out’ postural cues that many of us grew up with. These commands can create posture issues that don’t serve our bodies and therefore, do not serve our ability to project a self-assured stance. The shoulders back cue can promote a forward head posture that can set us up for neck and shoulder pain and even tension headaches. And, sticking the chest out jams the upper middle back and can exacerbate low back pain. These things can cause early onset fatigue and annoying or debilitating body pain.
Instead, try this five-step process for proper postural alignment:
STEP #1: Step number one is about your head placement. To start, the easiest way to learn this is in your car. Once you know it, it can be practiced anywhere. To get ready to do step one, make sure your car seat is in a full, upright position. Then, draw your rear end as far back into the seat as you can. (You may need to adjust your pedals.)
Again, many of us have what is called a forward head placement. If your head drops down when you move through space that can affect your balance and create more wear and tear on your joints. Also, not only is ‘jutting your chin’ an unattractive look as you age, as I mentioned, forward head placement causes things like back pain and tension headaches that make life less enjoyable. Bad posture that creates body pain can make handling stress more difficult. The truth is that ‘eyes-up’ really does make a difference!
First, place the back of your head gently on the headrest. (Make sure to remove your hat and let your hair down if necessary.) Keep the back of your head in contact with the headrest and drop your chin down slightly. You don’t need to create a double chin! Just lengthen the muscles in the back of your neck (which tend to be tight) and engage the muscles in the front of your neck (which tend to be long and weak).
Practicing proper head placement is key for alignment of your entire spine.
STEP #2: Step number two is about your shoulders. First, for a moment, please forget what you may have been told about drawing your shoulders ‘back’ and sticking your chest ‘out’. Again, this is because, when you jam your shoulders back, that can exacerbate forward head posture. And, pushing the chest out can create unnecessary neck, shoulder and back tension which can lead to more stiffness in your body. Instead of shoulders back and chest out, I want you to think of drawing your shoulders ‘down’ and away from your ears. Then, while holding the steering wheel, let the weight of your arms sink into your elbows. And, you don’t a death grip on the steering wheel as this contributes to unnecessary tension in the hands and forearms.
If you are a passenger, simply put your hands in your lap with the palms up and then let the weight drop down from your shoulders into your elbows. Practicing drawing the shoulders down and weighting the elbows helps to create less neck, shoulder and back pain. This can greatly affect how you move through space and therefore, the level on confidence that you project.
STEP #3: Step number three is all about your core. It is important to understand that a strong core for supporting the body requires that not only the lower abs be engaged but the top abdominals must be connected too. For full complete, core connection, the lower and upper abs must work together.
So, for step three, start to think of gently knitting together your top ribs. Don’t fold at the bottom ribs! Folding at the ribs can limit your ability to get a deep breath. Instead, just close the top of the ribs ever so slightly—this will help with breathing in step number four.
STEP #4: First, there are three kinds of breathers:
- belly breathers,
- chest breathers and
- breath holders!
What kind of breather are you?
Do you breathe into your belly or are you more of a shallow, chest breather?
Do find that you often hold your breath when you concentrate or when you are nervous or upset?
If you are a belly breather that could mean that you are pushing your abs out when you walk, play sports or even, sit at your desk. Pushed out abs are not strong abs. If you are awake and moving, you want your abs connected from top to bottom to support good posture—all day long.
If you are a shallow chest breather, do you notice that you are often winded or tired during the day? Also, holding your breath makes concentrating hard and makes your body tense.
Here’s what I want you to think about instead:
To be more effective as you move through space, instead of belly breathing, shallow chest breathing, or holding your breath, step four is about taking your breath into the sides and back of the ribcage. This is where the best oxygen exchange happens in the lungs. Directing your breath three dimensionally like this will help with your overall strength and endurance. Breathing better supports your spine and makes you less tight and stiff. It will also improve your ability to move with more fluidity and grace—which helps project more self-confidence.
When you knit together the your top ribs that will remind you to breathe into the sides of the ribcage. And, you can use the car seat to give you tactile feedback to breathe into the back of the lungs.
Remember to always keep the front body zipped-up to help create a strong core cylinder. Your core, linked to your breath, is where your strength and endurance comes from whether you are sitting, standing or going for a run.
STEP #5: Step five is about engaging the deep pelvic floor (DPF). The job of your deep pelvic floor is to hold your organs ‘up’. (And, by the way, everyone has a deep pelvic floor!)
Here’s a visual for you:
Imagine that your core is a room in a house. Think of your DPF as the room floor and your abdominals as the walls of the room. Then, pretend that your diaphragm is the ceiling.
To fire your deep pelvic floor, use the same muscles that control your flow of urine. For example, if you had a very full bladder and you had to sneeze—it’s those muscles!
The great thing about sitting in the car is that you have tactile feedback from the car seat to give you something to draw the deep pelvic floor ‘up’ from.
Think about it…
You can do exactly the same thing when sitting on the sofa or in your office chair. DPF engagement helps support your back. A strong pelvic floor will relieve tension and stiffness in your lower back. DPF engagement gives your spine more shock absorption for less impact on the joints when you sit, walk, stand or run. And, just like any other muscle in the body, when you train the deep pelvic floor properly, it will get stronger!
Now, to be clear, most people want strong abs. But, did you know that too much abdominal engagement from too many abs exercises like crunches can pull your back out of alignment? That’s right. A core that is not strong three dimensionally can make you tight, tired and give you a sore back. And, these things are not conducive to fostering posture of self-confidence as you move through space.
The good news is, that you actually only need about 30% abdominal engagement. 100% engagement is not sustainable nor is it necessary…
REVIEW: Here’s a quick review. Remember that I said you’re going to practice this sequence in reverse? One reason is because I wanted to get you thinking about some of the basics before I jumped right into the ever-illusive, deep pelvic floor! But the main reason is you need to establish your core foundation for good posture first.
Here are the five steps for the body awareness exercise that you can do in your car:
Step #1: Bring your attention to your deep pelvic floor. Gently draw your deep pelvic floor up about 30%.
Step #2: Keep breathing and let your breath expand the sides and back of your rib cage as you breathe into the sides and back of your lungs.
Step #3: Knit together your upper ribs to help close the top of your core’s cylinder and to harness your breath.
Step #4: Draw your shoulders down and put your weight in your elbows.
Step #5: Use your headrest to focus on your head placement by gently lengthening the muscles in the back of the neck and engaging the muscles in the front.
A simple, five-step exercise that you can do on your way to run errands or to pick up the grandkids. If you do this every day, three times a day for one week, you will strengthen your core and help relieve (or prevent) back pain. This will affect how you feel as you move through space. A strong, connected core promotes a healthy self-esteem and more confidence. That is because when you feel better, you are more likely to choose to do better—especially in times of adversity!
Do me a favour and tell me what you think? Leave a comment below with your thoughts about improving your posture to positively affect how you move through space to tackle whatever life throws at you.
Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts! If you’d like to connect you can email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media here:
https://www.facebook.com/cait.lynch | @withCaitLynch (Twitter & Instagram).
Cait Lynch, B.A.
Nutrition, Fitness & Momentum Coach
ABOUT CAIT LYNCH: Cait Lynch is the nutrition, fitness and momentum coach at her business Custom Fit Vitality in Ontario, Canada. She is also the author of the nutrition book, NOURISH: What Are You Hungry For? She coaches her nutrition program to men and women, ages tween to 75+, world-wide, online.
Before entering the wellness industry in 2004, Cait trained horse and rider teams in the U.S. and Canada for over 20 years. As a lifelong equestrian, Cait is excited to share a new online, cross-training course she has developed specifically for equestrian athletes called The Nourished Equestrian. This 12 week, comprehensive program is offered entirely online and is suitable for all levels of fitness and riding abilities. The course has three modules: nutrition, mobility (strength/flexibility/cardio) and momentum coaching.
Registration to join this session closes on Thursday, June 16th. The course officially starts on Monday, June 20th. To learn more, please click here: The Nourished Equestrian (This link also includes the video tutorial for the 30 Second Core Strengthener. It was created for riders but is suitable for everyone. Check it out!) – Since sending me this post, and due to high demand, Cait has opened up a few places for non-equestrians.